On squares and pixels

The love for three oranges at Württemberg State Theatres Stuttgart

Bühnentechnische Rundschau

The Baden-Württemberg State Theatres will start the 2018/2019 season with three new directors. Viktor Schoner, artistic director, and Conrelius Meister, general music director, have taken the reins in the opera. "Love of Three Oranges" is the third opera premiere of the season. Musical direction: Alejo Pérez - Direction: Axel Ranisch - Stage: Saskia Wunsch - Costumes: Bettina Werner & Claudia Irro - Computer animations: Till Nowak.

Sergei Prokofiev began his studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1904 at the age of 13.

It can be assumed that during ten years of his studies he not only devoted himself to music, but was also strongly influenced by the turbulent life of the Russian avant-garde of those years. The premiere of Mayakovsky's play "Vladimir Mayakovsky - A Tragedy" took place in St. Petersburg on December 2 and provided a magnificent prelude to the actual scandal that occurred just one day later: the futuristic opera "Victory over the Sun" was premiered in Luna Park in St. Petersburg. Alexej Krutschonych, Welmir Chelbnikow, Michail Matjuschin and Kasimir Malewitsch utilized all available artistic torture tools of Expressionism and Futurism for the onset on the "bulwark of artistic misery".

Besides countless provocations, Malevich used black squares that "adorned" the stage backdrop to achieve the desired expression of indignation. A simple black square. Nothing more. That was enough to proclaim the "suprematist" age.

More than 100 years later, this square returns in a contemporary form as a pixel to the opera stage of the Baden-Württembergische Staatstheater in production of Prokofiev's 1921 premiere of the opera "Die Liebe zu drei Orangen"!

What a brilliant idea.

Prokofiev left Russia in 1918 with the Wsevolod Meyerhold's adaptation of the Gozzi comedy of the same name. he Love for Three Oranges" in an opera form.

Going into American exile, he took with him the artistic idea of revolution. Nobody would have been interested in the Bolshevik variant.

The directing team cleverly anticipated all this and transposed it into a version that is understandable and humorous today. In Stuttgart, the story of a melancholic prince who, after learning to laugh again falls in love with three oranges, is turned into a computer game from the 90s. "Orange Desert III" This is a brilliant coup in several respects. Prokofiev (Meyerhold) does not tell the Prince's story as a fairy tale in a linear narrative way. There are two other levels, where powerful magicians fight for the protagonists' chances of winning and choirs of antiquity, representatives of the artistic genre fight for nothing less than the whole essence of the piece: should it be a tragedy, a comedy, a slapstick or something completely different?

All this entwines in the plot so wonderfully and gives the composer every opportunity to leverage his volcanically erupting musical explosions that it is disturbing and amusing, as in a constructivist big play.

In the Stuttgart production, all this also works very convincingly thanks to another idea for direction. The real player of this computer game is a little girl. At the beginning the audience listens like in a radio play as she excercises her witty persuasion talent to wring some computer time out of her father. But it doesn’t come as a big surprise when in the second part of the opera the children's room together with the computer itself become part of the scene and shortly afterwards the child is taken away from the computer by the sorceress Fata Morgana (Carole Wilson) and brought into the play - the opera scene.

That is a play in a play in a play or theatre in theatre in theatre...

In order to implement this concept convincingly, the Stuttgart-based company does not spare people or machines (Technical Director Michael Zimmermann, Stage Technology: Robert Späth). The Russian avant-gardists would be delighted.

In the center of Saskia Wunsch's stage design is Malevich's square as a pixel. Painted a thousand times and animated a thousand times in the video. This intentional pixelation not only creates the aesthetics of the early computer games of the 90s, but also developing the constructivist aesthetics of the plot in the stage design. The theatre painters have produced thousands of monochrome squares, most with 12 or 10 cm edges. In addition to this patience demanding work, colour shades were another great challenge, as Lisa Fuss, the head of the painting room, explains. Painting this huge Tetris game by hand took well over six months and was only possible because the exact templates were provided on time. The procedure was strictly conventional: cloth was glued onto large wooden panels, the squares were marked with a cutting line and then the color of each pixel was mixed and applied exactly according to the specification. One can only suspect that the theatre painters probably didn't feel like playing Tetris at that time.

At the same time, Till Nowak had also spent as many hours at the computer to complement the stage design with the video scenes that lead into the wide, often changing space of the desert where MS Prokofiev is stranded and to simulate the visual appearance of a computer game. The attention to detail and perfection are impressive in every respect, many humorous details create cheerful mood from the very beginning, which repeatedly breaks out in collective laughter throughout the performance.

Rare combination of video and stage design interconnect and function so harmoniously as in this performance. This is also due to the elaborate structures on the stage, which are effectively used on the double-deck podium independent of each other. And of course the three now gigantic pixeled oranges (from which three princesses will emerge), float down from the fly loft. And when magic is performed, loud blows are heard, flames rise, fog spreads across the stage. Many small ideas fit perfectly into this style, e.g. when after the intermission the magician Celio (Michael Ebbecke) plays with the main curtain or when appearances and walk-offs are arranged not according to a sheer logical principle but according to scenic-constructivist effectiveness.

"The love for three oranges" or here Orange Desert III had an extensive cast, that means a big challenge for every costume designer and maker. Bettina Werner and Claudia Irro offer great variety of design fantasies, so that eyes of spectators are busy for two hours with discerning all subtleties of the costumes. Each piece is a unique garment constructed of different materials (and often also yellow vests) in the form of pixels or squares. Reddish liquid flows in the king's crown, the effect was attained by means of 3D printing, the choirs of the tragedians, comedians, buffoons appear in pretty grey-black-white look of Greek choirs, magicians are glittering, the initially depressed prince lives in a pink sleeping bag, etc.

Each wig is a handmade prototype full of bizarre ideas 

https://www.der-theaterverlag.de/Thus a convincing synthesis of art works reaches craftsmanship perfection.

When at the end the applause of a visibly amused and well entertained audience is fired up, one can see for a moment in the cheerful faces of the company how they enjoyed the work.


BTR Ausgabe 1 2019
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 260
von Hubert Eckart

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